11/28/2013 12:18 EST | Updated 01/28/2014 05:59 EST

Montreal Fashion Week cancels winter edition; event merges with summer festival

MONTREAL - Organizers have "temporarily put a hold" on the winter edition of Montreal Fashion Week, saying they want to focus on merging the semi-annual showcase with the city's summer Fashion and Design Festival.

Plans to combine the events — both organized by Montreal-based Groupe Sensation Mode — were announced in September. At the time, organizers still seemed intent on staging Fashion Week in February.

"We thought that it was very important to make (the summer event) happen well," Groupe Sensation Mode co-founder Chantal Durivage said Thursday in an interview.

"Three productions a year with big events, it's a lot of time. We're always running. And if we want to develop, we need time. And this is what we realized."

Montreal Fashion Week — which celebrated its 25th edition in September — offered a platform for local designers to showcase their collections to buyers, media and members of the public who were able to attend in person or access the shows through online streaming.

The cancellation of the winter edition did not come as a complete shock to those in Canada's fashion community.

"Montreal designers are some of the most creative designers in Canada, but I think it's really hard for a country to support more than one strong industry-related Fashion Week," said Bernadette Morra, editor-in-chief of Fashion Magazine.

There's been talk of merging Canada's two marquee fashion events in Montreal and Toronto, the latter officially known as World MasterCard Fashion Week.

And while it hasn't come to pass, Morra said many designers and labels from Montreal — including Denis Gagnon, Rudsak, Mackage and UNTTLD — have opted to show in Toronto because the style showcase nets a larger audience.

"It's just something that's emerged in say the last 10 or 15 years where Toronto Fashion Week has really snowballed into a much stronger industry event. Now that it's being organized by IMG — which is such a powerhouse in terms of pulling in sponsorships — I don't think there's any looking back."

Longtime Montreal-based designer Marie Saint Pierre hasn't presented at the city's Fashion Week for several seasons, currently focusing her efforts on the U.S. and work in Ontario with Holt Renfrew.

She expressed surprise that designers who had invested many years showing their collections weren't given advance notice about the cancellation.

"I'm a bit concerned about how the news is going to be acknowledged by consumers, by fashion people and all that."

Mariouche Gagne, founder and designer of Montreal label Harricana, has presented at Montreal Fashion Week several times, saying it offers a great way to get photos of the collections and press coverage. But the event would often conflict with shows she attended in Europe as well as other projects.

She noted the high costs associated with staging the event and the need to enlist sponsors, adding that designers alone "don't have the money to make Fashion Week live."

"A Fashion Week is either you do it all the way or you don't do it."

Groupe Sensation Mode has a new board of directors and a retooled business plan. To promote the summer event, Durivage said they're planning to build a web platform to facilitate "a conversation about fashion and design" which will also allow the public to share content and opinions.

"Ultimately, people will be able to buy," said Durivage. "It will be a redirection to the different sites of the designers or retailers that we're going to present."

She added: "Everybody's going to be in the same conversation at the same time and in the same place — even around the world. Because with the web platform we're going to show them what's happening. The new festival will be a live community experience."

Held each August in downtown Montreal, the Fashion and Design Festival includes fashion shows, live art installations and musical performances. The most recent edition featured famed French designer and artist Jean-Charles de Castelbajac as honorary chair.

The Fashion and Design Festival has previously been staged in Toronto and Durivage said they have always seen the event as an "exportable product."

"It's a market we think will be interesting to develop."

The newly merged Fashion and Design Festival and Montreal Fashion Week event is scheduled to take place from Aug. 20-23. Programming for the showcase will be announced in March.

Montreal-based Travis Taddeo said he still plans to have a presence in the city and will be unaffected by the Fashion Week changes. A native of Calgary, the designer first started showing in Montreal five years ago. But Taddeo feels the Toronto event where he also presents collections offers the best platform.

"I do have high hopes for Montreal. I think that it's a shame it's come to this," said Taddeo. "But I really do hope that whatever it is that they do next is successful, because whatever they do should be successful so that people here can have success. I have no ill will against them for what they're doing."

— By Lauren La Rose in Toronto.